Plastic smile on my face, I scan the overcrowded, sweltering gymnasium while waiting for the spring instrumental music concert to start. My daughter H. plays beginner trumpet and I have the ear plugs to prove it. My gaze hones in on a tween tw
o rows in front of me with a tan fedora adorned with a big brown flower on its rim. She’s the only one in the whole room wearing a hat. Usually, that’s H.
My kid wears hats. She’s about fashion, especially accessories. Belts, jewelry, half gloves, hats, suspenders, you name it, she’s got it and she wears it. Its often the first point of discussion in my parent-teacher meetings. H and her fashion.
Once, she forgot to dress up for photo day so she ripped her shirt to make it more interesting. I even had a pierced, overpainted, and tattooed young lady praise me in Starbucks for letting me daughter express herself. I smiled and nodded. I’ll take kudos on my parenting from wherever they come from. We never get enough.
Okay, I’ve got a chic kid, but what this got to do with parenting beyond letting her self-expression. Everything. Because its in the simple things, that I’ve found my most profound parenting insights.
Insight one: Athena emerges fully-formed
My kid wears hats, I don’t. Never really did. I dressed pretty well in high school mostly because my mother dressed me. Left to my own devises, I would live my life in jeans, V-necked t-shirts and boots and be totally content. H. would not. My first lesson one–kids are born pretty much with their personalities in tact. Like Athena jumping out Zeus’s head fully formed. It’s real. My little Athena’s personality shone from birth–attention hungry, stomach issues, independent as all heck, total foodie, nap resistant, talkaholic, in total control of her world, dressed herself as soon as she possible could.
Insight 2: Be the change you want to see in your kid
But parents mold their children, teach, encourage, you say. Kinda, sorta, but not really in the way I expected. Teaching my kid in the sparkling beret or spangled fedora or bejeweled baseball cap (a clear preference for glitter and shine)turned out to be a long-term, ever-changing investment. I had this crazy impression, a total dream really, that I would tell her what to do and of course, bowing to my great wisdom and not insignificant life experience, she’d just do it. Because kids do what parents say. Right? And so I told her, and then I told her again, and again. When I looked in the mirror, a nagging shrew looked back at me. Ms. H. never blossomed under the words of my great wisdom, especially when said (maybe shouted) repeatedly.
Since I couldn’t tell her what to do, I took a lesson from writing and started to show her. Gandhi had it spot on. “Be the change you want to be.” It works for civil right and it worked for me for parenting.
I model the behavior I want to see, talk more, lighten up more. I wish I could say I totally jettisoned the nagging. I didn’t. I still need to get to work on time and she still drags her feet in the morning. But its getting better. And that’s how it works. Because a kid’s a full person, and moving her can feel more an alliance that is consistently renegotiated than a hierarchy of command and control.
Insight three: Pride is prejudice
Back at the spring orchestral concert (I was bored, my kid was only performing for a total of 10 minutes of the hour so I had a lot of time to think). When she was on, I watched my baby with pride, the only girl trumpet player in the band. Just like I’m proud of her gymnastics, the plays and songs she writes, her ability to needle me into a better mood, her competence at organizing her own birthday parties, the way she fiercely defends her friends from all naysayers, that she’s been planning her campaign for SGA presidency for over a year, and yes I can keep going and I am sure can you too. But here’s the thing. I didn’t do any of that. Praise be Athena
Yeah, I encourage, support, applaud, listen, talk–all those parent things you do. I’m not trying to minimize this, not be a long shot. It can actually be hard to do when they aren’t not listening, writing on the walls, stuffing the cat into costumes and then crying when they get scratched. I’m just recognizing sometimes, the best support I give my child is to let her blossom on her own. Not always, but sometimes its not what I do, but what I don’t do, when I choose to stay out of her way.
In the end, she’s the one that chooses out the hats, wears them, accessorizes them, rocks them. Me, I just drive to Target, veto the expensive ones and swipe the credit card. Oh, and I let her.
What have you learned about parenting you never expected? Does your kid wear hats?